• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Philosophy Essay. Evaluate the view that life is absurd through reference to the views of Camus and Nagel.

Free essay example:

        Philosophy, Life and Existence        

Evaluate the view that life is absurd through reference to the views of Camus and Nagel.

Albert Camus and Thomas Nagel were two leading philosophers who each determined that there is no inherent meaning to life, whilst having deeply contrasting views.  The idea that life is absurd  is essentially explained by Albert Camus in his essay ‘ The Myth of Sisiphyus’ as an incompatibility in our existence, which is the product of our desire and quest for meaning, order and purpose. Camus also introduces the idea of ‘philosophical suicide’ and Thomas Nagel while complicity agreeing with Camus’s idea of absurdity, disagrees with his approach and reacts differently by suggesting that life without meaning doesn’t matter; whereas Camus feels that we can utilize the absurdity of life to fuel and motivate ourselves.

Albert Camus suggests that the first signs of absurdity can occur at any time, when small doubts and insecurities start to creep into our mindset, and eventually we start to find ourselves questioning our mechanical and structured life. He tells us that it ‘awakens our consciousness and provokes what follows’, also saying that there are two paths we can go down; ‘the gradual return to the chain or the definitive awakening’. This portrays that Camus is suggesting that we are forced to make a decision, to either accept our fate and ‘awaken’, or ignore all the questions and return to the mundanity of everyday life. The absurd life is described as being more about quantity then quality of living; to live as long as possible as life is transitory. Camus declares that ‘being aware of one’s life, one’s freedom, one’s revolt, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum’ (page 60), suggesting that he feels only through realizing the absurdity of life, can one be liberated and live a free life, without the worries of questioning our existence. Everyday life is described as a ‘sleep’ and that the first steps of an absurd  freedom is the ‘escape from everyday sleep’. This means that Camus feels that the only freedom you can have is freedom of though, and action, and this can only be ascertained through the freedom of living an absurd life, that is abandoning your former concepts and ideas and moving past the question of meaning,

The ideas of both philosophical and physical suicide are raised by Camus to highlight the fact that he is concerned whether we can live with this feeling, not with how we overcome it. He suggests that while physical suicide destroys the man that confronts the world, philosophical suicide destroys the view that the world has meaning, in essence destroying the world around us. He proposes that ‘there can be no question of masking the evidence, of suppressing the absurd by denying one of the terms of its equation’ (page 48), which tells us that in essence, physical suicide is the suppression of the desire for meaning, while philosophical suicide is the suppression of these desires by replacing them with other theories and metaphysical reason. Ultimately he is implying that once we move past our desire and quest to find meaning, and when we realise we can’t solve the absurdity of life, we must not let our impending death have any control over us. That is to say, even though life has no meaning, we must not let death influence our decisions to restrain us in any way. Thomas Nagel tells us, however, in contrast that ‘ Philosophical skepticism does not cause us to abandon our everyday beliefs,  but lends them a particular flavour’, pointing out the irony that we realise the meaningless of our lives, but choose to ignore it and carry on.

Camus proposes the notion of the edge of chaos, which portrays his belief that there is a constant struggle to impose order on chaos. He believes the absurd can only exist in the conflict between human search for reason and the irrational order of the universe. Camus declares that ‘ I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it’ and that there is an ‘impossibility of reducing this world to a rational principle’(page 49), which  affirms his belief that the world is neither rational nor irrational. His solution contrasts with that of Nagel, as Camus expects us to embrace the absurd then rather commit physical nor philosophical suicide, whereas Nagel suggests that you could commit philosophical suicide if you wanted to. Thomas Nagel also advocates the fact that we can end this absurdity, by ‘abandoning one’s earthly, individual, human life in order to identify as completely with that universal viewpoint that life seems arbitary and trivial’. This contrasts greatly with Camus’s preference for people to embrace absurdity, rather then reject it.

Religious affiliation, metaphysical meaning, and constructed philosphies are all rejected as alternative solutions and as a form of philosophical suicide. Camus rejects the idea of a creator or God,  when he states that ‘creation is the great mime’(page 91). Camus alludes to the fact that humans generally can’t cope with a lack of meaning, so they turn to other beliefs such as religion to satisfy their hunger for meaning.  Thomas Nagel portrays that ‘we perceive… an inflated pretension or aspiration which is inseparable from the continuation of human life’, alluding to the fact that human beings generally have high expectations of continued success and happiness, meaning they haven’t realized the absurd.

In conclusion, we can determine that while both Nagel and Camus agreed that life was absurd, they differed on their approaches and solutions. As for life being absurd, we can glean that the desire of humanity to discover a meaning to life can be described as absurd, as there is no balance between this and the rationale of the universe and world. Albert Camus suggests that we can either embrace this absurdity, through his idea of revolt, or we can go down the path of physical or philosophical suicides. Thomas Nagel is less definite in his solution, and he is more blasé in his approach, as he leaves it up to the individual to decide what to do. Albert Camus also tells us that we must rebel, and  revolt against  the inevitable nature of death, as we shouldn’t get caught in the trap of finding no meaning and wasting our days. On the contrary Camus uses death almost as a fuel to inspire the absurd man to live life to its full potential, and find meaning in what we do.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

http://atheism.about.com/od/existentialistthemes/a/absurd.htm,2011

Parkinson, G.H.R, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1996

Webb, Clement, History of Philosophy, 2001

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Philosophy and Theology section.

(?)
Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Related University Degree Historical and Philosophical studies Skills and Knowledge Essays

See our best essays

Related University Degree Philosophy and Theology essays

  1. What is the Theatre of the Absurd, with reference to "Waiting For Godot"?

    In fact, in the philosophical sense, "Absurdity" implies confusion, irritation and absence of meaning and purpose.

  2. Waiting for Godot - Meaningless of Life

    It is the misery of human being. Estragon: I can't go on like this. ...... Vladimir: We'll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause) Unless Godot comes. Estragon: And if he comes? Vladimir: We'll be saved. Regarding the meaninglessness of life, Samuel Beckett seems to share similar ideas with Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre that "An absurd world is a frightening one.

  1. Kant's Philosophy

    verify the accuracy of the match between sensations and the properties that objects possess in them selves. In fact, Berkeley rejected the very idea of mind-independent objects on the grounds that a mind is, by its nature, incapable of possessing an idea of such a thing.

  2. The Meaning of Life in 'To the Lighthouse' - Virginia Woolf

    In any case, time and nature obliterates any individual determinations in its sweep. Deaths are mentioned in parenthesis, as if they are of little consequence to the whole. Chaos and disintegration are the realities of life. For James, in 'The Window', visiting the lighthouse is a distant goal, the object of an adventure.

  1. Many of the set texts involve a physical journey of some kind (Perfume and ...

    Sometimes, people would go into hysteria, or have some sort of phobia for a reason that is unknown to them. The cause of the hysteria or phobia could usually be found within the subconscious. If one was a claustrophobic, it may be due to the fact that his or her

  2. Language as Freedom in Sartre's Philosophy

    In Being & Nothingness, Sartre identifies 'authentic' consciousness as the For-itself. It is the capacity to interrogate, eliminate possibilities, and establish a judgement based on negation of what is - i.e. by recognizing what is, one acknowledges also what is not.

  1. World Poverty and Human Rights Philosophy Essay. This philosophy essay is critical analysis of ...

    Instead he defines his type of libertarian egalitarianism as one that uses the currency of liberty as the basis of the theory. Both Narveson and Pogge agree that impartiality goes hand-in-hand with any moral theory. Yet their interpretations of the notion of impartiality is where the clash lies.

  2. The Influence of Philosophy in the Roman Empire - A.W.

    Again, Seneca, for all his declamation on the self-sufficiency of the sage, painfully felt that this ideal condition of mind was never realised. His Stoicism too contained elements borrowed from different philosophies. Under the Empire philosophies mingled, as religions mingled?and Seneca, in this more like a Platonist than a Stoic,

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work